Fire Engineering Training Community

Where firefighters come to talk training

Searching in Modern Times - Adult Victim Profiling

We all understand the mission of the fire service. Upon arrival to a given building fire, the fire department’s number one priority is life safety. If we have any possible chance of locating and rescuing an occupant, we must start a rapid and systematic primary search. Many smaller fire departments in the United States with limited manpower are forced to perform search and rescue from the engine company's hose line. The assignment of search and rescue is a difficult and often dangerous task for these firefighters.

Fortunately for many fire departments in the United States, modern technology has aided the search team with the introduction of the thermal imaging camera. The TIC and the use of victim profiling can potentially expedite the primary search(s).

Where do we start?  We have all been taught the basic of size-up indicators for a potential demographic like type of occupancy, time of day, vehicles in the driveway, childrens toys in the yard, etc. These are all very important “visual indicators” when nobody is meeting us outside upon arrival. Uncontrollable factors in which the fire department are challenged with are pre-arrival exposure time to the victim with super-heated and toxic gases causing serious and/or fatal respiratory injuries.

OK, so the first due officer has decided to enter the structure and start a primary search. The crew should prioritize the location of the search. Starting on the fire floor. If tenable, starting said search of the fire room, then the remaining fire floor. Once the primary all clear is given for the fire floor, crews should work to the floor above the fire with possible victims trapped above the fire. As you know, basic search training has taught us that toys for example can demographically identify the potential of small children as victims, some may be unable to egress without adult assistance. Firefighters have been trained to process this vital information and adjust our search pattern techniques accordingly.

 Adult Search and Rescue Techniques - Victim Profiling.  So, let’s talk specifically about this profile. If and when you locate an “Unconscious Adult Victim” the search team should quickly assess the victim’s location in correlation to their body positioning and note the direction of travel for a profile pattern. Fire Investigators have used this technique along with other physical evidence to obtain the victim’s activity and movement prior to becoming incapacitated.

Statistically, adult male victims are more likely to sustain thermal insult injuries or death while investigating or attempting to fight an incipient stage fire than do women. With this said, an adult male occupant will be more likely to be located by the rescue company in the general area of the fire’s origin or potentially attempting to get back to the sleeping area to assist with his spouse. Body position is the key to understanding any potential thoughts and movements of the victim. If the adult male victim is located in a well involved room for example, he may have been overcome during the attempt to locate or extinguish the fire. If he was located on the stairs though, especially heading up the staircase toward the suspected sleeping areas, the victim is likely heading back to assist with the notification and the evacuation of a spouse and/or possible children.

Now for adult female occupant, generally speaking they are more likely to be found incapacitated while attempting to assist with the evacuation of a child or loved one. (elderly in-law) Profiling a female victim who is found in a hallway or stairwell can potentially assist the rescue company with locating other victims within the area. When the search company finds an adult female occupant, they should look at her body position and direction of travel. Which way was she heading? A female victim that has become incapacitated and was heading AWAY from the normal entry or egress point is potentially screaming “MY KIDS ARE THAT WAY."

If the search and rescue company lets the adrenaline rush of finding a victims overcome their conscious thought process, they can easily miss valuable information. Never, never, never just grab a victim and start heading for the door without assessing their position and direction of travel. Take just a second to look at the “adult victim profiling pattern” with their position, location and possible direction of travel. This valuable but often missed information obtained from the unconscious adult victim combined with some other “traditional” basic size up markers may expedite finding additional victims. Even though the victim is unconscious, their body position can talk to you. Remember to keep your cool and assess the situation to maximize your obtainable information. We as fire service leaders and educators must continue to strive for ways to work safer, rescue victims faster and provide the best service possible with whatever means and capabilities we have for our community.

Billy Greenwood is a Pro-Board Certified Level III Fire Instructor and the owner of FETC Services. FETC provides advanced firefighter and leadership seminars throughout the United States. Billy also hosts "Tap The Box" on Fire Engineering Radio.
Billy will be presenting "Extreme Leadership - The Next Generation of Leading Coaching and Mentoring" at FDIC 2017. Please consider attending our 4 hour preconference workshop.  

Views: 924


You need to be a member of Fire Engineering Training Community to add comments!

Join Fire Engineering Training Community

Policy Page


The login above DOES NOT provide access to Fire Engineering magazine archives. Please go here for our archives.


Our contributors' posts are not vetted by the Fire Engineering technical board, and reflect the views and opinions of the individual authors. Anyone is welcome to participate.

For vetted content, please go to

Fire Engineering Editor in Chief Bobby Halton
We are excited to have you participate in our discussions and interactive forums. Before you begin posting, please take a moment to read our policy page. -- Bobby Halton

Be Alert for Spam
We actively monitor the community for spam, however some does slip through. Please use common sense and caution when clicking links. If you suspect you've been hit by spam, e-mail

FE Podcasts

Check out the most recent episode and schedule of

© 2022   Created by fireeng.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service